Dog Sniff Of Student Vehicle For Drugs Reveals A Handgun Case

Here’s WHAT HAPPENED:   swat_guy_german_shepard_dog_sniff_locker_pt_res.thm In conjunction with the police department, JM’s high school conducted a drug dog search.  Students were required to remain in their classrooms while the dogs sniffed both their lockers and vehicles.  A dog alerted on JM’s car.  The vehicle was searched, finding no drugs but  a loaded handgun.  The actual search was not conducted by the police, but by school officials working with the police.   JM was charged with unlawful possession of a handgun.  In court he argued the dog sniff of his vehicle lacked “individualized suspicion”  that he was violating either a school rule or the law.  He claimed that before the dog sniff, neither the police or school officials were in possession of any facts  leading them to believe he had  drugs. weapons or other contraband in his vehicle.  All they had to justify searching his vehicle was the dog sniff.   Therefore, JM claimed the seizure of the handgun, based only on the dog sniff, made it an illegal search.  Because the search was illegal the handgun found in his car could not be used as evidence against him in court.   The court rejected his argument, finding him guilty.  His conviction was affirmed on appeal.

Courts have held  the 4th Amendment ban on unlawful searches and seizures applies only to persons.  This means a dog sniffing an object, such as a student’s backpack, locker or vehicle is NOT a illegal search in violation of the 4th Amendment.  Here, the court held the search was initiated and conducted by school officials with the police only assisting them.   The court held in this case the dog sniff, conducted without “individualized suspicion”  pointing to any particular wrongdoing by JM,  did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights.  The dog sniffed his vehicle,  not of his person.  This meant the handgun school officials recovered could be used as evidence against JM at trial.  The fact do drugs were found did not prevent JM from being prosecuted for the unlawful possession of the handgun. The fact school officials started out looking for drugs and found a handgun did make it an unlawful search. Looking in his car based on the dog sniff was lawful in the first place.  Therefore, school officials could seize any contraband they found in the vehicle,  whether it was drugs, a gun, a knife or stolen property.  This contraband could then be used in court as evidence to prosecute JM.

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